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4/24/2008
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Microsoft's Live Mesh: Web Fabric With Loose Threads

Ambitious plan to weave PCs, devices, and cloud computing is still in the early stages.

Microsoft has conceded what others have been saying--that the PC is no longer the center of the computing experience. The admission came last week as chief software architect Ray Ozzie presented part of Microsoft's answer to that reality: a software-services combo called Live Mesh.

"The PC era has given way to an era in which the Web is at the center of our experiences," Ozzie wrote in a memo distributed to Microsoft employees and publicly released. "It is our mission in this new era to create compelling, seamless experiences that combine the power of the Internet with the magic of software, across a world of devices."

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Nice--if the business-friendly tools arrive
Live Mesh will let users synchronize data among devices, automatically back up data on the Web, share content, and remotely access Internet-connected devices such as smartphones and laptops via client code and Web services. Using new tools provided by Microsoft, plus standard protocols and RSS-like data feeds, developers will be able to make Web apps accessible offline and outside of a browser. They'll also be able to tune apps so that changes made offline get uploaded when the apps reconnect to the Internet, as well as add Web connectivity to PC apps.

Live Mesh uses a 2-MB client, called the Mesh Operating Environment, to replicate file folders to cloud storage and to sync and share content with other devices and people designated by the user. When users sign on to the Live Mesh site, Mesh.com, a "device ring" shows the devices connected to the service. The site lets users manage the information they're sharing and syncing. A Live Remote feature provides remote access to devices.

For developers, there will be the MeshFX APIs, which leverage Microsoft's FeedSync protocol. MeshFX supports synchronization and online-offline capabilities for HTTP, .Net, Silverlight, Win32, and JavaScript applications, with others to follow. Microsoft says developers will be able to create apps written in those languages that run on any PC or device, but a software developers' kit isn't expected for months.

While the first version of Live Mesh is designed for individuals and developers, Microsoft has business use in mind, too. It plans to add controls that will let IT departments manage Live Mesh device access via Active Directory, verify identities across organizations, and enforce usage policies.

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Businesses could find Live Mesh a boon for mobile applications. "From an enterprise perspective, there's still an enormous challenge on how to manifest line-of-business apps for mobile workers," says Tim Huckaby, CEO of InterKnowlogy, a developer of custom applications. "This solves that problem."

Microsoft will deliver Live Mesh in phases, beginning with a broader test later this year. The downloadable client will be available initially for Windows Vista and Windows XP, followed by the Mac and other devices, while the Web service will be accessible in Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

Live Mesh has many loose threads. It's unclear how Microsoft's own applications will fit in, what vendors will sign on, and when business capabilities will be delivered.

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